It wasn’t hard to figure out how my pal Buddy Maiorana could hand me the concert tickets he’d picked up. Simple. We’d meet at The Red Mill Tavern for a burger and a beer.

I got there first and took a seat at the bar. It wasn’t crowded at 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night. A young woman, perhaps 30, maybe a bit younger, came in and sat a few stools away. I am a lot more shy than most people think, so I just nodded a polite, respectable hello and went about sipping my beer and checking baseball scores on my phone. I could not help overhearing her conversation with the bartender, though.

It was her first time at The Mill. She was passing through town and decided to stop. She loved the place (who wouldn’t?). Said the company she works at often has events and she’d recommend here. She ordered a beer and asked for a menu.

Buddy arrived and, after a few minutes of small talk, asked who the young lady was. I whispered what I’d heard and we went about enjoying our food, Buddy opting for the Delmonico steak sandwich. I stayed with the plan and ordered the cheeseburger. Well, the double cheeseburger.

As the woman finished up, Buddy and I looked at each other and I could tell he was thinking what I was thinking: let’s stab her check. So we did.

“They did what?” she asked the bartender.

“You did what?” she asked us.

She was a bit dumbfounded. “But why?” she eventually added.

“Welcome to Pittston,” Buddy said. “This is who we are.”

I tell you this today because I’d like you to welcome another person to Pittston, to show another person who we are.

This is a young man, mid-30s, who’s never been to Pittston and the way it looks never will. He’s my son’s best friend. Was best man at my son’s wedding. And he’s dealing with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

Nick Grappone sounds like he could be a Pittston guy. He’d certainly fit in around here. My son pointed out the other day that I’ve known Nick as long as he has. I met him one summer in Savannah, Georgia, where both were going to college. It was right after he and Mike had become friends. We had a cookout and drank cold Newcastle Brown Ales. The three of us proposed a Crown Royal toast to the late local hero Dale Kridlo at my daughter’s wedding in San Antonio, Texas, in October 2014.

Please see Optimist, page P8

The following July, we hung out together in Chicago the morning of Michael’s wedding, which I performed on the rooftop of the Little Goat restaurant, Nick standing next to Mike and beaming. Nick’s a good beamer.

I cried when Michael told me what’s going on with Nick. And I cried even more last week when I read what Nick’s brother wrote about him on a Go Fund Me site. Nick is a highly successful creative person. He currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland, where he’s become fluent in French.

Nick’s a runner. And when he was first diagnosed with ALS he handled the news by completing a 63-mile ultra marathon around Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in The Alps. “Imagine,” his brother wrote, “running a marathon. Then imagine running two. Then imagine adding almost another half marathon and doing this all at once, on trails, throughout the night, with no sleep, where oxygen is thin, across 20,000 feet of elevation gain. Now imagine doing that with the significant onset of ALS symptoms.”

His brother added, “When Nick completed the run, he had lost significant strength in his arms and some fine motor ability in his legs.”

The average life expectancy for someone with ALS is 3 to 5 years. Nick has embraced this challenge, according to his brother, “with the understanding that we are all a small part of existence.” Nick seeks no attention and no sympathy, but he is offering himself up to various alternative treatments and studies that may unlock the key to a cure for this horrible disease, if not for Nick, then perhaps for others in the future.

That’s what the Go Fund Me campaign is all about. Its goals are to raise awareness of ALS and to raise the funds that will allow Nick to engage in alternative therapies.

My daughter and son and their families and I and some of our friends all have contributed. I hope you will consider doing the same, no matter how small a gift.

We’d much rather stab Nick’s check at The Red Mill, I know. But at least we can send a message that says “Welcome to Pittston, Nick. This is who we are.”

Just go to, click on search and type Nick Grappone. You’ll enjoy seeing his kindly face.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at

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